November is over, and I’ve now been doing the Read Your Library Challenge long enough to have a pretty decent list of books I’ve finished reading for this project. In Phyllis Rose’s personal reading challenge that she wrote a whole book about, she only read 23 library books, and so far I’ve already read over 16 books specifically checked out for my Read Your Library project (fiction by authors whose names start with A, beginning with the first adult and YA shelves in my library; nonfiction in the 001-100 segment of the Dewey decimal system).
The Read Your Library Challenge is a more formal restatement of an idea I had earlier this summer, that there are a lot of books in between the ones I notice on the library shelves, books I have never heard of, and that none of my friends have read either. They may be really good books, or awful books for that matter, but unless people check them out and read them, they remain as filler, propping up the books people do check out, and when these ‘filler’ books have stayed on the shelves unloved for long enough, they are de-accessioned, in other words removed from the collection and either sold at the library’s book store or thrown away. An awful lot of library books end up at landfills after no one reads them, and not all of those are books no one would enjoy reading.
I also hate the knowledge of being uninformed about book. It bugs me that I don’t know who most of the authors are on the library shelves, or what their books are like, despite the fact that I read more than most people do. So, I am reading my small local branch library, starting at one end of each of the major sections I am interested in- adult fiction, YA fiction, and adult non-fiction- and working my way through the library a few books at a time. I allow myself to skip books I know are really not for me, especially religious fiction, but if I can’t give a really good reason for skipping a book, I have to at least try it out. Only 1 book so far that I’ve read has been awful.
One of the goals in any reading project like this is to find hidden gems, books that you really enjoyed but would not have noticed or chosen to read if you were not just systematically reading all the books. Here are a few of the books I read that I quite enjoyed:
Written in Stone , by Ellery Adams – I’ve talked about this book on another post on this site. This is a murder mystery set in a small town in Lumbee territory, and while enjoying the murder mystery story, readers also get to learn a little about one of the more unusual native tribes of North America, one that has a history of standing up to the KKK. I was sure at first that Adams made up a tribe for her story, because the story of the Lumbee seemed so fanciful, but the truth really is stranger than fiction sometimes, and yes, in fact, this tribe is quite real. The novel as a whole is well structured, and rather entertaining, a nice break from the Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marple, and Hercule Poirot I usually go for in mysteries. The book cover in my library’s edition would have turned me off from checking this book out, since especially with the author’s name, I would have guessed that this was more of a cutesy romance involving a picnic. One other thing that might appeal to older readers- the protagonist in this novel is an older woman, as in gray hairs, but she is an older middle-aged working woman, not an elderly retiree. I myself am a young-looking 30-something, so I found the main character harder to relate to still, but older women may appreciate reading this one and being able to relate easily to the sleuth.
Tortuga , by Rudolfo Anaya – I would have gotten to Anaya’s books eventually. I read Bless Me Ultima in 2007, and loved it (yes, I recorded it in my spreadsheet, so I know exactly when I read it), but I hadn’t really bothered back then to look up any of his other books. Anaya is an active author, and has more recent books available than just that one 1970’s modern classic I read. Our library has a few of his other books, so I’ve read 2, and have 3 more in my TBR library stacks. I found Alburquerque to be pretty average, not a bad book, but not memorable either. Tortuga , though, was great. In this semi-autobiographical novel a boy is admitted to a children’s ward to recover from a severe back injury that has left him temporarily paralyzed. As he recovers slowly from his injury, he explores a side of life most people avoid thinking about, the world of pain, illness and disability, where bodies are not healthy and perfectly formed, and cannot adequately reflect the people who inhabit them. As a disabled person myself, I tend to shy away from thinking about disability- my own is minor and can generally be ignored, but I am still aware of the disconnect between inner and outer life just with my own disability. So, reading Tortuga was an uneasy experience, but uneasy in a way that literature is supposed to make one uneasy, forcing the reader to look at and think about difficult things and develop a more nuanced understanding. Books like this one and Kingsolver’sPoisonwood Bible are on my ‘required reading’ list for anyone dealing with disability.
Hair Raising , Kevin J. Anderson – I really enjoyed the books I’ve read so far by this author, both Hair Raising and Clockwork Angels . Anderson is actually a Colorado author, and one I’ll be keeping an eye on from now on. His Clockwork Angels is a lovely steampunk fantasy developed in collaboration with the drummer from the band Rush, who wrote and recorded a whole album of music alongside this book. Especially with the musician connection, I am sure I’d have read this one eventually. Hair Raising, though, I picked out as almost a joke just before Halloween. Books about serial scalpers targetting werewolves, and a zombie detective, hardly seem like my sort of reading, far too silly and the sort of story that often is done sloppily and with no expectation that readers will notice or care about the poor writing. I read enough of those sorts of books back in grade school.
Hair Raising , though, was well crafted and the werewolves, vampires, zombies and all the rest of the Halloween spooks and critters were all characters, not just caricatures. The plot is well-paced, and while the resolution made sense, it was not obvious either, without the dirty tricks some mystery writers use- bringing in a brand new character in the last chapter to be the killer; revealing a piece of evidence the investigator picked up and never mentioned to anyone, even the reader, etc. There are other books in this series, but not at my library, so I don’t have to read the rest, but I probably will put holds on them and have them brought over so I can read the rest of them.
Have you been reading your public library? Find any hidden gems yet?